A former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mohammed Adoke, has called for the office to be split into 2.
Writing in his new book, Burden of Service: Reminiscences of Nigeria’s Former Attorney-General, Mr Adoke said, “This is because when acting as Attorney-General, he is answerable to no one but his conscience and the interest of justice, but while in his capacity as minister, he must take directives from the president and do the President’s bidding.”
Mr Adoke, who occupied the seat between 2010 and 2015, said there is always a conflict of interest in being the AGF, “which has enormous responsibilities requiring independent thought, mind and direction” and also the Justice minister “who is an appointee of the president with the mandate to assist him in the discharge of his executive functions.”
Mr Adoke said the AGF has to be a “saint in order not to be tainted by the views of his party under whose platform he was nominated or those of the president who appointed him, given the intrigues and underhand dealings that characterize partisan politics in Nigeria, coupled with the “absolute loyalty to the president’ syndrome…”
The office of the AGF is unique because it has a dual role. It is the only ministerial office specifically mentioned in the Constitution with sure powers given to it. As Chief law officer, the responsibilities of the AGF is like no other in the Federal executive council (FEC)… the AGF has a special responsibility to be the guardian of the constitution. He has a special role in advising the government to ensure that the rule of law is maintained and that government action pass assessment of constitutionality”, the former AGF wrote.
“The AGF routinely advises the president and the government on all matters connected with the interpretation of the constitution, legislative enactment and all matters of laws referred to him… He also advises heads of ministries and agencies of government… often, these issues require the delicate balance of state actions with the dictates of the rule of law. The AGF is obliged to ensure that the rule of law is not compromised in any form.
“This is often an excellent task, given that government actions sometimes conflict with the interest of the citizenry,” he said, stressing the need for the offices to be divided with specified functions.
Mr Adoke’s stance resurrects arguments over the years for or against the bifurcation of the merged offices. The calls for the separation of the offices are premised on the perceived influence of the executive on the occupier. Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution names the Attorney-General as also the Minister of Justice. It has been this way since independence.
Nigeria’s graft agency, EFCC has been on his trail over his alleged link with the $1.1billion oil scandal for which oil giants Shell and ENI are being prosecuted in multiple jurisdictions.
The former attorney general, who left the country shortly after he left office, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and a Nigerian court ruled the last April that he cannot be held personally liable for his role in the controversial deal.
His controversial role in the contentious reinstatement of fugitive former pension boss, Abdulrasheed Maina, his questionable request for payment of $17 million to two lawyers for performing an already completed role in the return of $321 Abacha loot, as well as his controversial advice for the federal government to discontinue the trial of suspects in the $1.1 billion Malabu scandal are some instances where the current AGF appeared to be taking a special direction from that expected of a Justice Minister.
The EFCC has taken steps to capture previous Ministers Etete and Adoke over the questionable $1.3 billion Malabu oil bargain. This is the thing that the case is about.